Welcome to an episode interlude for Fireteam Freelance readers! The interlude is beyond the jump to save anyone from spoilers, so hit it to get started! A list of all episodes can be found at the Fireteam Freelance page.
Interview Excerpt – Commander Valerie “Valkyrie” Castillo
The following is the final in a series of interviews with the members of the mercenary team “Fireteam Freelance.” We saved the best for last readers, as this interview was with none other than the reclusive Valkyrie herself, Valerie Castillo. This interview was conducted by Samantha Stiles on behalf of Mercenary Monthly, and has been edited for clarity and security purposes.
Samantha’s portions of the conversation will be in bold.
Thank you, commander, for agreeing to this interview. Now, you already made clear that you don’t wish to talk about your past or your time before Fireteam Freelance, and we respect that.
Thank you, Samantha, for respecting my wishes in this matter. Just so your readers know, it’s not that I don’t want to remember that time from my past, nor the time spent with my sisters, but that too many questions regarding what happened don’t pay proper respect to the fallen. That, and there’s nothing for me to add that I have not said before.
I understand. When preparing for this brief interview, I did note that many interviews … ended poorly, for lack of a better term. So I’m here to talk about Fireteam Freelance.
Well I appreciate that, thank you.
Well, what do you think of your work with the fireteam so far?
It’s been six years, so I’m not sure my first impressions count anymore. But I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished, if I may be honest about it. I was glad to see the team first came together. But I’m still glad now, as I look back on all the various things we’ve done.
But in all that time you’ve never expanded.
No. Expanding would defeat the whole purpose of the fireteam. Well, perhaps not if it was a small expansion, but … What we have works, and adding to that could unbalance it.
What about it works so well, in your opinion?
We fit a void that there wasn’t a grasp for. I’ve explained this before, but …
It’s all right. We get new readers all the time.
Very well. See, if you look at the kind of work out there for mercenaries, and you look at the kind of jobs that get picked up, you see a trend. There are three kinds of jobs that get accepted. First are the small, one-person jobs where someone with little money has scraped together just enough to afford a single independent mercenary—maybe two. A lot of these jobs are either from small government or corporate employees, or occasionally a group of people who could scrounge the money together, though that last is fairly infrequent. Many of those single-applicant jobs have a tendency to bring together several people, all as individuals, rather than as a team.
On the other end of things, you have the jobs that require a full crew. And these kinds of jobs require a much larger paycheck, since you’re not hiring a single soldier that’s looking out for themselves. You’re hiring a company, and that comes with additional costs: Logistics, deployment, staff, the works. Every bit of it needs to be paid for. So the only groups that can afford them tend to be actual governments or corporations. Entities with enough funds to pay in installments for the hiring of a private mercenary company.
But that middle ground … that’s where the fewest jobs are hired. The middle ground is when people or small organizations have a problem that requires more than a single soldier, but don’t have the finances to afford an actual group of soldiers. The more soldiers band together, the greater the cost of a logistical structure and support system, and that all has to be paid for. So with these kind of jobs, there are three avenues for the people trying to find someone to do it: they pay several independent soldiers to work together—that bit from before I mentioned, though what I didn’t add there is that this almost always comes at a steeper price because they have to make up for heightened risk of only being able to afford a few people.
The second option is to hire a portion of a larger mercenary company. This is nothing new, and many companies do it, but they charge a lot for the privilege. At the end of the day, they need to make money to keep that logistical structure going. So once again someone ends up paying more, because that back-end is all there regardless of how many soldiers are hired.
Exactly. Which leaves a final option: To hire cheap mercenaries. Fodder. Soldiers with knock-off, homemade skinsuits, or without even skinsuits at all. Warlords, gangs … really whatever you can find. High casualties, high churn. You pay them a lot too, because they’re counting on half their crew dying and most of what’s left quitting for a few years once they collect their pay.
Fireteam Freelance is designed to be an alternative to that middle ground. Because of our unique financial situation, we can provide the logistical support and flexibility of a standard mercenary company on a smaller, more affordable scale. Rather than hiring several independent operators, a portion of a full company, or a crew of fodder mercenaries, someone can hire us. All the advantages of a full company in a smaller size, and at a much lower cost.
So do you fill a broad niche, or just a small one? If there were a market for it that was substantial, I imagine you wouldn’t be the only team like this out there.
I’d just call it a niche. We certainly pass on jobs from time to time, and other times work is scarce, but we can afford to wait. We don’t have any real competitors is because we’re small and doing jobs a lot of larger companies would pass over. That and any smaller company that took our work would quickly expand to make more money, pricing themselves out of this market.
So staying small is how you survive?
And how we continue to fill that niche. That, and we’re not in it for the money. Don’t misunderstand: The team is paid and paid well for their work and efforts always, after each mission, even if our client hasn’t settled their bills yet. But we’re content, or rather, I’m content, to take long-term payments, or even remain neutral. Sometimes we even lose a little money on an operation if I feel the cause is worth it. We’re only able to do this because of our financial holdings from my old company.
You almost make it sound like a charity.
In a way, you’re not wrong. The only reason Fireteam Freelance exists is because of the financial backing and stability I offer it.
What’s to stop someone else with that sort of financial backing you have from setting up something similar?
Interest. Most with my kind of money retire to Arcadia or invest in something profitable. They don’t spend their money holding neutral talking on jobs that barely pay back what they’re worth.
So why didn’t you? Sorry, if that’s too close to your past, I can—
It’s fine. I can answer that. Without being to specific, there are always those sort of jobs being offered. That middle ground. Few take them up. After the loss of my sisters, I decided that whatever I did, I wanted it to be something to honor their memory. Something more than just taking the fruits of their loss and fleeing to another world to live in luxury. Maybe some of them would have wanted that, but it didn’t feel right. But taking that money and doing the jobs that fall into the cracks? That felt like something good to do with it.
It almost sounds like humanitarian aid.
I wouldn’t go that far. After all, at the end of the day we’re still mercenaries being paid, quite often to kill someone. It’s just a question of who that is. Do I think the world is a little bit of a better place when we kill a warlord in the Dragon Bloc that no one else cared enough to deal with? Yes I do. Will it fix all the problems? No. But that’s still one less warlord out there, and that’s good enough for me.
And if some other warlord rises in their place?
Well, I joke about steady work, but at some point I would hope that they’d learn and either find a better line of work or go somewhere else.
What about reprisals?
Well, that’s always a fear when you’re a soldier for hire. Anger the wrong people or the wrong group … A mercenary license only offers so much protection, and only from those abiding the law. We have been told before—some politely, some not—to not return to some countries. Other times, we’ve had to make it quite clear that while we’re small, we’re very skilled.
Is that why your base of operations is hidden?
In all honesty, it’s not that hidden. If the UN wanted to know where it was, they’d find out. Same for most megacorps. But it does give us a degree of … Well, separation isn’t the right word. It’s a buffer and allows us to have our privacy. Hell, I can get on the datanet and find amateur sleuths who’ve narrowed it down pretty well. It’s not exactly hard.
But the privacy is worth it.
Yes. And it is a bit of peace of mind if someone does attempt a form of reprisal.
Alright then. What about now and the future? What direction do you see the team going, and are you happy with where things are now?
I think I’m happy. About where we’re going, I mean. I’m happy with the way things are now. I enjoy the company of the team, and I enjoy the work we do. As for what lies ahead … I don’t know. I’m sixty-four now. I’ve probably got another half century or more of activity in me thanks to my augments, and who knows what’ll happen in that time, but … I don’t know. Maybe in another five years someone on the team will tire of all this and want to retire themselves—they’re making good money. Maybe I’ll be able to find a replacement, maybe I won’t.
What would that mean for the operations you have set up, then? The base, and all the equipment?
I don’t know. I’d sell it, I suppose. Maybe retire to Arcadia at last. Or some other colony world. Maybe I’d start another team there. For now, we’ll keep doing jobs and doing what we can. See where it takes us. So, any other questions?
Actually, yes. You were a pilot. Do you still fly?
Yes, I do. From time to time, I pilot the team’s gunship. Remotely, on occasion, but often in person.
Do you mind telling us a little about the aircraft?
Not at all. It’s a Stalker-class stealth VTOL aircraft, manufactured by Mchawi Aeronautical.
That’s a recent model, isn’t it? I believe our periodical referred to it as “One of the most advanced stealth aircraft in the world,” in our review.
Among gunships, yes. Replaced the older Striker-class stealth gunship.
That must have cost you a fortune.
Well, I did mention earlier about the high costs of running even a small company, didn’t I? We’re a small team, but I wanted to invest in the best. The Stalker is a fantastic bit of engineering: small and quick, global range, you can even skip the atmosphere if you really need to get somewhere in a hurry, though to have to be careful not to damage the composites that keep it off scanners. For its size it’s perfect for our team. Enough space for a few people. Powerful engines. Very maneuverable. Interior gravitic system so you don’t pulp your cargo. And some of the best baffles and stealth design money can buy. Very helpful for slipping in and out of hot spots with a small team.
Or past borders of countries that have outstanding orders not to let you in?
I’d never thought of that.
Of course not. Does your gunship ever make good on the first part of its name and find itself in combat?
From time to time. It is a gunship, after all.
How do you handle repairs, refits, and even regular maintenance?
We’ve got a rig, actually. Expensive, but it’s the only way to be able to change loadouts on the fly before an op. We could make do without one, but a rig makes it a lot easier.
That sounds expensive.
Well, it’s modified too. Not enough to get us in trouble with the UN’s anti-automation laws, but the rig does most of the heavy lifting.
Sounds like more of what you were talking about when you mentioned the difficulties in running a small operation.
It does come into that, yes. We have no support staff. It’s just us.
But no plans to expand?
No. I’m happy with what we have.
Well, if I may, what about the team?
What would you like to know about them?
Well, I’ve spoken with each one of them, and you found them, at least according to their own words. You “chose” them specifically? Why?
There are a lot of people out there willing to kill. I wanted people that would for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones.
You can call it whatever you like, but yes.
How’d you go about gathering them?
Some were simply by looking in the right place at the right time. Others I chose specifically and went to recruit them.
Some might call your choices … unorthodox.
We’re an unorthodox team. Let them say that. I believe our results speak for themselves.
The team’s record is impressive.
Some of my team have seen more combat missions that some companies generals.
Sounds like a guanlet.
Just an observation.
Right, just two last questions for you. One, why no ranks?
Didn’t end up needing them. Don’t misunderstand, when I assembled the team initially I planned to assign them, but then when the team started working together, they just … clicked.
Another example of your careful choices?
Maybe, but I should not have the credit for it. Not all of it. The team works together because they do. They’re like siblings, almost.
Wouldn’t that make you the mother?
Eh. Every team has jokes about a team mom.
Well, out last question today comes from our raffle winner Jacob Nyulen.
It’s not about asking me out, is it?
No, I’ve heard that story. But it’s not.
Good. The answer is always no, but …
I understand. We screened carefully. No, Jacob’s question to you was “Has your team ever done a job off Earth, or thought about it?”
I’ll admit, that’s a fresh one. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Closest we’ve ever come was turning down an offer doing security on an executive’s yacht at one of the elevators. The reason, as you might guess, is cost. Our suits are sealed, yes, and they can handle vacuum, but they’re not made for it. None of our gear is. Likewise, no one’s paying us for transport to Mars or Luna when they can just hire mercenaries there. Entertainment shows are a little different from reality in that respect. Good question, though. Thanks Jacob.
Would you ever consider moving your operation?
Not at this time, no.
Well then, Commander Castillo, thank you for your time with you and your company.
You’re welcome. Send me a copy when it’s out.
This is the last of our interviews with Fireteam Freelance, and the end of our interview with Commander Valerie “Valkyrie” Castillo! Be sure to subscribe for more military news delivered to your feed each day from Mercenary Monthly, a subsidiary of Icon News Media.
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